After spending months or perhaps years of blood, sweat and tears on the development of your product, the wait between achieving your Production CAD Release milestone and that holiday-like buzz of unwrapping your first off-tool parts can be excruciating. Those in the game long enough can attest that this agony has gotten worse as we’ve been spoiled with today’s wicked fast data connections on the go, entertainment on demand and next-day delivery. Yet, the truth of the matter is that creating a tool still follows the same general process that it did in the age when drawings were done with T-Squares and French Curves. The physics of cutting a piece of steel really hasn’t changed.
Here are some of the reasons that the expectations and reality of tool creation can differ.
1. Tool Maker
Are you working directly with the company making the tool? Has your manufacturing partner subcontracting the tool creation to another shop? Who owns the tool design? The more companies, commercial relationships and personnel that exist in the chain from you to the machinist that is modifying the actual steel to make your parts – the more likely delays can arise from the timing and accuracy of the communication. Many manufacturers have recognized that having mold or tool creation in house goes a long way to avoiding the politics, liability and miscommunication that can result from a complex tool supply chain. The fewer discrete parties involved and the more steps completed under one roof, the less likely that you will encounter an unexpected delay.
2. Complexity of the Tool
If conventional wisdom guides an informed consumer or buyer to solicit three quotes for any job, this effectively means that most suppliers are only winning about one third of the business that they quote. Quoting new business consumes overhead and any shrewd business person recognizes that it’s necessary to balance the investment in a quote with the likelihood that business will be won. As a result, quotations often make quick assessments of the size of the tool, number of actions, amount of machining required and general tolerances of the assembly; but no amount of pleading will convince the quoting team to evaluate a part with the same critical eye as the team responsible for designing, producing and qualifying a tool. There will likely be extra design time to ensure the mold mechanisms will work well together, machining time to get tolerances just right and trial time to ensure that the mold will produce good parts and an efficient rate. Keep in mind that your manufacturing partner is keen to develop a tool that will produce a high yield of good parts running an optimized cycle time – an outcome that benefits both them and you. So cut them a little slack and give them the extra few days to produce tooling that will run repeatably and reliably while producing parts that work for your assembly.
3. Engineering Changes
As project schedules come down to the wire, companies will often try to initiate their RFQ cycle in parallel with the engineering team’s work to validate the latest design iteration. More often than not, the Production CAD Released part is different than what was used in the quotation cycle. This difference can be a key contributor to the disconnect between expectation and reality of the tooling timeline. Even a small feature change can have a large impact on the design and performance of production tooling, and your partner will need sufficient time to complete their work to fulfill their end of the deal. It’s important to be understanding of the impact last minute design changes can have on the timelines promised from a prior revision of the drawing.
4. Timeline Expectations
Perhaps the most likely reason your tooling feels like it is late is that there was a disconnect between expectations and reality. Frequently, the lead time quoted in response to an RFQ is a standard duration which fails to account for the number of tools or the current available bandwidth of the mold shop. Or the quoted lead time may have been generated when the mold shop had fewer projects running; but by the time you get around to placing your PO, another customer beat you to it and dropped a PO which consumed a good bit of their machining capacity. Finally – many schedule discussions that occur before both engineering teams have signed off on the part to be produced and several weeks can be consumed making Design For Manufacturing (DFM) tweaks to the part to optimize mold or part geometry. Whatever the reason, there is a good chance that the ‘best’ date offered is the one that lingers in your mind and causes your blood to boil as the date approaches.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that your manufacturing partner wants the same thing you do: a high quality, repeatable, reliable, efficient tool in production as quickly as possible. Your incentives are aligned when it comes to production tooling. You both benefit from the revenue increase and cash flow that comes as the tool gets implemented in production. Recognize that they are your partner in the effort and invest your energy into gaining insight into the progress and seeking creative ways to help accelerate timelines for both of you.